Friday, 14 May 2010

Accent on the ridiculous in 21st century Britain


I’ve illustrated this post with a short clip from Russell Crowe’s new movie Robin Hood, because the Aussie actor hasn't taken kindly to suggestions that he has given Nottingham’s hero of legend an Irish accent.
Sorry Russell but there is an Irish inflection on a couple of words in the clip and that is enough to register on sensitive British ears.
When a foreigner speaks English we Brits can’t tell American from Canadian accents; Australian from New Zealand; not one Scandinavian country from another; or what part of Eastern Europe the plumber or the barmaid was born in.
But we are attuned to the many regional accents to be found in Britain – including Ireland north and south. This is because for centuries a particular accent denoted class and therefore power - who to kick and who to fear.
Regional variations made it more difficult but by the content of language and the manner it was spoken, it’s been pretty easy to tell the miner from the banker, the farmer from the vicar from behind a curtain.
Breeding still counts but society is more stratified by money these days. The manager of a posh West End restaurant will be reassured to hear a public school accent when taking a telephone booking. But he or she cannot afford to be sniffy if the voice at the other end of the line has, for example, a cockney accent (more Ray Winstone than Dick Van Dyke).
Given they make their own restaurant bookings, it could be a City or property wheeler-dealer or a millionaire soccer celebrity – or a supermodel or a soap star. Money talks and it has many accents.
But a public school one – and the education and the life-long contacts it implies - is still a considerable head start. Britain’s new coalition government,for example, is teeming with the product of public schools and Oxbridge.
This may prove to be an Achilles Heel for the Conservative-LibDem alliance. If the coming public spending squeeze is as tough as some fear, it will not play well if government ‘toffs’ are seen axing jobs.
Contenders for the Labour Party leadership brothers David and Ed Miliband were educated at comprehensive schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think? GC